By Emily Bruzzo, Staff Writer
Published in print Nov 19. 2014
Everybody has something to say about UNC-Greensboro’s finances.
At least that seems to be the case lately.
On Oct. 24, Howard Bunsis, a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University and the chair of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) national collective bargaining congress, presented a 100-slide PowerPoint to UNCG’s faculty, staff and administration on the institution’s “revenue, spending and priorities.”
Faculty members from UNCG’s AAUP chapter asked Bunsis to take a look at the university’s financial situation.
The analysis he provided has had the UNCG community talking ever since.
With the campus community trying to heal the wounds of a recent scandal, attempting to refine the university’s strategic vision and debating the budget, Bunsis’ presentation came at a sensitive time for UNCG.
The university has held several forums in the time since Bunsis gave his talk. One forum focused specifically on tuition and fees, while the other centered on the university community vision.
At both forums, many questions that had been influenced by Bunsis’ presentation were raised.
However, his work is being called on now, more than ever, as the university considers a proposal for a tuition increase.
The tuition proposal is the brainchild of UNCG’s tuition committee, a group that was appointed by Chancellor Linda Brady on Aug. 5, 2014.
The committee was specifically charged with the task of determining whether or not UNCG should implement a campus initiated tuition increase (CITI).
The official report submitted by the committee on Nov.7 to Brady and her executive staff recommends a five percent CITI for both years of the 2015-2017 biennium.
This means for the 2015-2016 academic year, in-state undergraduate students will have a new annual rate of $4,129.
Out-of-state undergraduate students, who will be charged the same dollar amount of tuition increase as in-state students, will have a new annual rate of $18,322.
This increase for out-of-state residents equates to roughly a one percent tuition increase.
For the 2016-2017 academic year, in-state undergraduate students will pay a new annual rate of $4,335, whereas out-of-state undergraduates will pay a new annual rate of $19,197.
The committee argues that such a tuition increase would generate approximately $3.3 million in revenues for the first year of the biennium and $3.5 million for the second year.
The committee’s proposed allocations for the increased capital includes: 60 percent towards the “retention and support of EPA faculty and professional staff,” 22 percent towards “undergraduate student success and retention initiatives” and 18 percent towards “graduate assistantship stipends and tuition awards.”
The proposal, which the chancellor and her executive staff discussed on Monday, will be sent to the UNCG board of trustees on Dec. 4 for consideration.
If the proposal is recommended by the trustees, it will then be sent to UNC President Tom Ross for review and eventually sent to the UNC board of governors for approval on Feb. 27.
The proposal has been supported by a majority of committee members; however, two members voted against the proposal.
The two dissenters argued there is discomfiture amongst faculty about asking students to pay more in order to fund things such as faculty salaries.
UNCG community members outside of the committee have been trying to fight the CITI proposal, calling on Bunsis’ findings to do so.
Last Tuesday, Elizabeth Keathley, a faculty senator, emailed various executive staffers and board of trustees members, asking them to turn down the proposal.
She cited Bunsis’ work to support her arguments against the tuition increases.
But what about Bunsis’ work has administrators feeling accused and faculty members feeling validated?
Bunsis makes several key arguments, one of his focal points being: unrestricted versus restricted reserves.
Restricted-expendable reserves represent funds that can only be used for specific purposes.
External third parties such as donors or even the state often limit these funds.
Unrestricted reserves—of which UNCG has roughly $85 million as of June 2013— represent funds that are supposed to be useable in any university area in need of financing.
Bunsis argues in his presentation that administrators claim unrestricted funds really are internally restricted because those funds are being put towards a specific use.
Bunsis says that if this were the case, external auditors would put those funds in the restricted-expendable or restricted-nonexpendable categories.
In an office interview, Charles Maimone, UNCG’s vice chancellor of business affairs, said in response to Bunsis’ argument about unrestricted reserves, “The idea that [UNCG has] no obligation to those funds is really an overstatement in all ways, shapes and forms.”
Maimone cited UNCG’s recent renovations to Cone residence hall as an example of how unrestricted reserves must often be restricted.
He argued that the renovations will cost up to $13 million and the institution must build up reserves restricted to just the housing area in order to fund such a costly project.
In an email interview, Bunsis said in response to this argument, “The example on a partially built dorm is mistaken; if that is the case, then the funds for that dorm will be in the restricted-expendable category, not unrestricted. Bottom line: unrestricted is unrestricted.”
With such conflicting viewpoints, it’s no wonder many community members are concerned about UNCG’s finances.
However, both Maimone and Bunsis do agree on one thing. Despite a high debt of roughly $274 million— the result of recent construction projects— UNCG is in a good financial state.
There is no question that UNCG is doing financially well, but there is question about how the university should employ its strong cash flows.
Bunsis argues that athletics is a significant drain on UNCG finances.
“Athletics at UNCG is simple,” Bunsis said, “They spend huge amounts of money, and generate very little revenue to support it. Therefore, the core academic mission must support athletics.”
Bunsis continued by saying, “UNCG has increased athletic spending, and the percentage of those increased costs that have to be supported by the core mission has increased.”
“This is not sustainable,” he argued. “It will never be the case at a school like UNCG that increasing athletics leads to more revenues.”
Maimone argues the opposite, saying, “These are growing and expanding programs, and they’re changing the culture of the institution.”
Maimone continued, “The leadership of the insitution—including the board of governors, the board of trustees— all have approved that this is the strategy…that creates the institution we want.”
Maimone, only having worked at UNCG for three months now, says these sorts of arguments about vision are normal
“I’ve worked at five universities,” Maimone asserted, “And there’s always an element of individuals who believe the direction of the insitution should be one way or another.”
“I do view myself as a steward of this position,” Maimone said. “I’ve accepted the responsibilities that go along with that.”
Maimone continued in talking about building UNCG, saying, “My goal is simply to leave it in better shape than it was. And that means in its totality. It means all the moving parts.”
“What should not be overlooked in all these conversations…is that the core mission the institution is teaching and learning and that the value…faculty members bring to this place is second to none.”
Bunsis agrees with Maimone about UNCG’s need for a focus on academics, and that’s why he proposes positions, such as Maimone’s, should be cut.
“In terms of tuition increases,” Bunsis said, “I believe that the UNCG administration is bloated. There are too many administrators making too much money.”
“Before increasing tuition on students and their families, there should be a major overhaul of the administration,” Bunsis said.
“I believe that 20 percent of administration positions should be eliminated,” Bunsis argued. “Given the choice between keeping tuition low and keeping the bloated administration, we should choose to keep tuition low.”